If I told you to rank the 50 greatest songs in the world, the chances that your rankings would be identical to anyone else’s are slim to none.
We all vary in our preferences for countless characteristics in a song, such as lyrics, melody, tempo or rhythm, so everyone has a unique partiality for what pleases the ear.
College rankings are arguably similar, although these rankings are far from melodic. That’s because U.S. News & World Report, among others like the Huffington Post who put out rankings like “the 10 best places to go to college” and “the best professors,” have the audacity to declare their knowledge of the best colleges in America every year, and people listen.
These schools’ positions are determined, according to the U.S. News & World Report, by gathering “data from and about each school in 16 areas related to academic excellence. Each indicator is assigned a weight (expressed as a percentage) based on our judgments about which measures of quality matter most.”
What these rankings don’t take into account, however, is the subjectivity that goes into college decisions. As cliché as it is, each student’s experience and needs are different. These rankings order through objectivity, discounting any personal reasons students have for making decisions.
Therefore, these lists don’t fully encapsule certain qualities of college and should not be perceived as the holy grail.
The keyword is “judgments.” Like different aspects of a song, everyone will have a distinctive judgment regarding which measures of quality matter most in a school.
And is there anything more superficial than assigning numbers to such a complex four-year experience?
What if one of the measures of quality that matter most to a student is school spirit or location?
These aspects can be extremely important to a college applicant, yet the rankings cannot include them only because claiming a school’s location deserves a 65 percent sounds crazier than claiming a school’s faculty deserves a 65 percent.
U.S. News & World Report insists “many factors other than those spotlighted here will figure in your decision,” but it cannot deny its significance in today’s world when its website includes a countdown marking the release of these rankings.
Despite their lack of substance, the rankings are so accessible and renowned that college applicants are pressured to factor this website’s opinion in college decisions.
These rankings ultimately reflect a prestige associated with higher-ranked schools, and if you select No. 23 USC instead of No. 3 Yale, despite admittance to both, people will initially and naturally judge, without considering your reasoning for being a Trojan.
At the very least, imagine falling in love with a school after a visit, only to skim through these rankings and find that it’s not even on the list. U.S. News & World Report tells you your school is not among the best. You might be able to endure this slap in the face and walk away, but it definitely has the capability to leave a sting.
The rankings are visited so often they are here to stay, but they should not exist.
Or, the word “best” should be replaced to reduce the illusion that the rankings are the one true gauge of school quality.
To prospective students: Refuse to use rankings as an indicator of a school’s quality and envision a world without them, where you do your school research without a preconception clouding your vision of what is or is not the best college for you.
Jeremy Chen is a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism.
Correction: An earlier version of this headline misused the word “objective.”